top of page
  • Greg Graves

Gardening on the Pacific Rim

Lecture hall

Over the last several years I’ve had the opportunity to work on the education committee of the Northwest Horticultural Society. Most recently I helped plan the speakers for this years symposium, ‘Gardening on the Pacific Rim’. The object of the symposium was to look at some the the influences being part of the Pacific Rim has on our Northwest gardens. We had four speakers to help us better understand this connection.

Checking out the plants before the lecture

The idea came to me while I was visiting Japan a few years ago and spent time with my friend Nao. Nao had previously been one of my interns at the Miller Botanical Garden. He is a member of the Japanese American Garden Association. After talking with Nao and his father, I thought it might be an interesting topic to expand on. I also knew Ray Larson, who is now the Curator of Living Collections at the University of Washington Botanic Garden. Ray coincidentally had also been an intern at the Miller Garden. Ray had given me and a friend an excellent tour of the gardens ‘Pacific Connections Garden’. All that was missing was a bit more plant information. I knew Doug Justice from ‘Great Plant Picks’ and he had mentioned a trip to Tibet that he was about to go on so I asked him if he would be willing to talk about that. We just needed someone to talk about the southern hemisphere and Dan Hinkley came to mind since Dan has collected plants all over the globe. Dan agreed so we had a one day trip around the ring of fire.

Here is a quick recap of the speakers and their talks.

Raymond J. Larson, Curator of Living Collections at the University of Washington Botanic Gardens, presented Around the Pacific in a Day: The Pacific Connections Garden at the UW Botanic Gardens. He talked about plants from five regions around the Pacific Ocean—New Zealand’s South Island, the mountains of western China, southeast Australia, southern Chile and the Siskiyou Mountains of southern Oregon that created this garden. In his discussion of each display Ray focused on the best performing plants for our Pacific Northwest gardens.

Nao Donuma, a fourth-generation gardener and the Executive Director at Yoshoen Corporation, which has been involved in garden design, construction, and maintenance for over 70 years in Niigata, Japan, discussed his cross-cultural gardening experiences, My Experience Both in the Pacific Northwest and Japanese GardensNao trained in both in Japan and the Pacific Northwest, where he was an intern at the Miller Botanical Garden. He compared gardening in the Northwest with Japanese gardening. He included a brief introduction to Japanese gardens from traditional to contemporary with some traditional garden techniques and design theories, and shared with us ideas that can be applied to gardening in our Northwest gardens.

Douglas Justice, the University of British Columbia Botanical Garden Associate Director and Curator of Collections, presented Southeastern Tibet in the Footsteps of the Plant Explorers. His lecture took us along on his recent botanical expedition along the Tibet-Sichuan highway following in large part the Yarlung Tsangpo (ultimately the Brahmaputra in India) and its tributary rivers as they flow through southeastern Tibet. Ascending out of these often impressive valley bottoms were frequent sorties into the mountains and over high passes along secondary and lesser roads—many, the long-established tracks used by generations of Tibetan herders. In some cases, these were the same routes used by early 20th century plant collectors, including Frank Kingdon Ward, whose journeys in this area inspired his writing of the classic volume In the Land of the Blue Poppies. This plant hunter’s paradise boasts not just a wide diversity of amazing landscapes, but an astonishing variety of plants—Meconopsis, maples, Incarvillea, orchids, cypress, jasmines and rhododendrons to name a paltry few.

Daniel Hinkley, teacher, writer, lecturer, consultant, nurseryman, naturalist, gardener and plant hunter, took us to the southern hemisphere with Chilean Translation. The flora of the southern Andes on a whole dependably translates to cultivation in the Pacific Northwest better than any other in the southern hemisphere. Dan Hinkley explored the many plant species native to this long, skinny country that deserve greater recognition in our western slope landscapes. 


All in all the day was quite the learning experience. I felt like i had just had a mini vacation to some of the most spectacular places on the planet. To add a little frosting on the cake, Far Reaches farms and Windcliff sold plants before, during and after the talks. It was attended by about 220 people from 2 to 90 years old, so something for everyone. Nao brought his 2 year old daughter who took it all in stride. She got particularly excited and cheered when it was over.

Checking out the Magnolia

After the symposium the board of NHS hosted the speakers and a few other people to a speakers dinner at the Dunn Garden in North Seattle. Renee Montgelas, an NHS board member and docent at the Dunn Garden conducted a great tour of the garden which was in all it’s spring glory. It turned out to be sunny spring afternoon.

If you are looking for more educational opportunities, the Northwest Horticultural Society is an excellent place to look. NHS, besides this annual symposium, also has a monthly lecture series, plant sales, in the garden classes and a number of volunteer opportunities. 

speakers dinner and tour

Heather bed

Speakers dinner


13 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page